Coast Surveyors assumed important combat roles during the Civil War, serving as topographers, reconnaissance specialists, scouts, intelligence officers, and combat hydrographers.

For a contemporary record of combat mapping during the Civil War, see the war record of Frederick Dorr and John Donn.

Browse biographical vignettes of Coast Surveyors, listed below.
Harris, Joseph Smith

Middle Initial: S.


Branch: Navy

Theater: Western

Related: LA, MS

Bio: In 1854, Joseph H. Smith accepted a position at the U.S. Coast Survey, following the footsteps of his older brother, Stephen. In 1862, Joseph volunteered to take his brother's appointment with the U.S. Navy. In command of the Uncas, he left New York for the Gulf Coast on February 28, 1862. En route, he witnessed the battle between the Virginia (Merrimack) and the Monitor. Afterward, his crew was forced to switch to another ship, the Sachem, for the remainder of the voyage. Aboard the Sachen, Harris and the other surveyors established survey markers along the Mississippi River to serve as control points for indirect artillery fire into the forts defending the approaches to New Orleans. Their work provided for first combat use of blind firing of artillery by the U.S. Navy during the battle for Fort Jackson in April 1862. Following the fall of New Orleans, Harris continued with the survey until August 1864. In 1864, with the majority of the Gulf coastline under Union control, he left the survey to return to the Northwest Border Survey.


Office of Coast Survey
Historical Map and Chart Collection
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